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Four Ways to Live Longer

Four Ways to Live Longer: Main Image
Don't smoke, stay active, eat your fruits and veggies, and drink alcohol in moderation

Want to add years to your life? Don't smoke, stay active, eat your fruits and veggies, and drink alcohol in moderation. Nothing surprising there--but still a good reminder as yet another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, confirms this common sense advice.

Several studies have investigated the effects of smoking, physical activity, diet, and alcohol consumption on health and longevity, but so far they've only looked at certain groups, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn about the results.

The new study included 4,886 people over age 18 who were followed for 20 years as part of the Health and Lifestyle Survey (HALS) in England, Wales, and Scotland. The participants gave information about smoking history, amount and frequency of fruit and vegetables eaten, amount of leisure time physical activity, and alcohol consumption.

One point was given for each of the following "poor health behaviors": current smoking, eating fruits and vegetables less than three times per day, getting less than two hours of leisure time physical activity per week, and having more than three drinks per day (men) or more than two drinks per day (women).

Less is more

The higher the number of poor health behaviors the higher the risk a participant had of dying from any cause, compared with people with no poor health behaviors. Those people with four poor health behaviors increased their mortality risk as if they were 12 years older than their actual age.

"The combined effect of poor health behaviors on mortality was substantial," commented the study's authors, "indicating that modest, but sustained, improvements to diet and lifestyle could have significant public health benefits."

Longevity lessons

Life's demands can get in the way of meeting your diet and exercise goals, so the following tips may make them more attainable.

  • Break it up: If taking a long walk or bike ride is too daunting, opt for shorter bouts of exercise. Three ten-minute walks around the block put you well on your way to reaching your daily exercise quota.
  • Keep it colorful: Getting your fruits and veggies is a snap when you count your colors. Aim for an assortment of colorful produce each day, like bright berries on your breakfast oatmeal; orange peppers, apple chunks, and shredded purple cabbage on your midday salad; and a mixed veggie stir-fry for dinner.
  • Kick the habit: If you smoke, quit now. You will dramatically lower your risk for many serious diseases by stopping smoking.
  • Toast your health: Moderate amounts of alcohol might lower your risk for heart disease, but as little as one drink per day can increase the risk of some cancers. Until more is known, it's probably best to consume alcohol only occasionally.

(Arch Int Med 2010;179:711-8)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children's health through better nutrition.
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